Friday, May 11, 2012

Spoiled in the Valley (Ch. 23)

The electricity got shut off at the little apartment next to Newmark Park and we fell behind on the rent.  If my mother wasn't spending all the welfare money on drugs, then she was gambling it away at the nearby casino.  We called it Bingo, but what she really played there were slot machines.  My mother wanted a better life, but she was only willing to invest money in slot machines to acquire it.  I hoped the dollars she put in the machines were like throwing pennies in a wishing well.  Maybe all the wishes she made were for me.  I wish I could get a house for my daughter, I wish I could buy my daughter new clothes, I wish the electricity would get turned back on...

One day she went to play "Bingo" and she met a man named Larry.  Larry was a large white man with tiny teeth, thin hair and clear blue eyes.  My mother bewitched him, and we were soon packed up and on our way to the high desert of California.  I was ten years old


Larry gave us a house to live in and took us to pick out all new furniture for it.  I had my own room!  All the furniture in my room was painted white and my bedspread was bright yellow with white flowers all over it.  The fridge was full of food, I had clean clothes and there were talks of taking me to Disney Land!  Meeting Larry at the casino was better than winning the jackpot.  Maybe my mother wished for him... maybe I wished for him.  No matter who it was, our lives changed.... for a little while.

Larry was a good man.  He made sure I was taken care of and showed me what "normal" was.  He taught me about what it meant to be responsible, honest and hard working.  He signed me up for Little Republicans of America.  He put me in etiquette classes, dance classes, and piano classes.  I went from having to wash my clothes with shampoo in the tub to having shopping sprees in Pebble Beach.  I went from begging my friends to let me come over for dinner, to having my friends beg to come over my house because I had a brand new PlayStation.

Just like a chameleon I adapted to my new situation and became a spoiled child of the valley.  I adjusted so well you would have thought I had been born with a silver spoon in my mouth.  In my first year of middle school I ran for class President and won.  I started my own club called "Community Helpers" and we went around cleaning up parks and reading at nursing homes.  I joined a drama team; I won spelling bees and was a challenger on the debate team.   The weekends were spent going to the ocean, museums, amusement parks and shows.  He took me to my first Broadway show and we saw Dancing in the Rain.  It was a nice life.  

Me at 10

Meanwhile, my mother slept.  Drugs were hard to come by in the area we lived and Larry didn't like them.  Larry didn't live with us and when he had made a date to come over I would be wound up with anxiety.  I had to get my mother up, showered and looking decent before he arrived.  I'd yell at her, "Get up.. get up, get up, get up!"  I cut her hair myself and did her makeup.  I made her coffee.  I would beg her, "be nice to him mom, please!..."

I could not lose what I had.  Larry wanted my mother... and I was going to give him what he wanted.  I could tell she hated Larry.  She would kiss him and then turn around and make a disgusted face at me.  Join the club.  Been there done that, I thought.  Now it's your turn!  I was an adult stuck in the body of a 10 year old.  I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure things kept going the way they were.  I started to prefer it when my mother could get her drugs.  At least then she would do her own hair and get out of bed.

Larry would come over and I would send them off on their date and go to the living room to give them privacy.  I'd turn the TV on and watch documentaries on Area 51 till midnight or read till I was so sleepy I couldn't hold my eyes opened anymore.  I wanted to stay up till the date was over so I could make sure everything went all right.  I was generous with my hugs with Larry and always tried to make myself look nice and well mannered.  Please keep us!  I'll be good, I'll be good...  It was hard work living in the Valley, but I wanted it.  I wanted it so bad.

At school and all my activities it wasn't hard for me to pretend to be normal.  I created another place inside of myself just like I did when I became nothing.  I shoved my past and my memories in this new place.  I had a "nothing" place for Giraffe Knees, a place for my mother's daughter and her memories, and on the outside I was a normal, spoiled, 10-year-old girl.  I was always my mother's daughter at the end of the day though. 

Deep down, part of me will always be my mother's daughter.  What has been seen cannot be unseen, what has been learned cannot be unknown.  You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it.  You can grow from it.  You can be made stronger.  You can use that strength to change your life, to change your future.

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